I Fixed That Copyright Problem On The Internet

- - The Future

I decided to take it upon myself to address the raging debate about copyright on the internet. I created an alternate internet for people who want to give their content away without attribution or payment.

I’m calling it the shitternet. Just direct your browser to shit://www.yourblog.com and start grabbing stories and photos and video to make a page everyone will want to visit. This is going to be so AWESOME. It will be a place where people can mash-up and repurpose everything thats posted and consumers can go and look at the same photographs and stories and videos over and over and over again only reposted on millions of blogs. And, everyone can link everyone else until the internet resembles a giant donut. Sweet. It’s for people who use the internet as a side job. It’s no good for people who want to make a living off original content creation because everything is free.

There was another round of debate on the tech blogs just before the holidays about photographers copyright and the idea of fair use on the internet. I won’t bore you with links because it’s old news now but I wanted to point out that a few people commented with links to Larry Lessig’s speach at TED (here) where he talks about mashing-up copyrighted content to make cool new content and they all seemed to miss the point he makes at the end that the content originators should decide how their stuff is used.

I think it’s cool that people want to create material and give it away because that’s exactly the value of the material they’re creating. The creative commons license which Larry is a big supporter of was created so people can broadly release copyright restrictions on material they would never profit from. I’ve always had a problem paying for horrible photography and now I know I can get it for free.

High quality photography is still very expensive.

There Are 47 Comments On This Article.

  1. you said it…

    how about some original content, i have to say I do rarely post links to somebody else’s stuff, but never ever make that the primary purpose of my blog. I have a side bar for stories that i’ve read and am interested in other people reading (not that I have really any readership).

  2. After being involved in one such discussion where the din became nearly unmanageable, there may be a steep climb back to an ownership society as far as IP goes. OMG, the level of childishness (I want it, I take what I want, it isn’t like anyone is getting hurt), and irrational thinking (if she didn’t want it to be ripped off, she shouldn’t have put it on the internet) was simply astounding.

    The worst part? Yes, there is a worst part. They were all photographers and aspiring photographers. To want to work in a profession that creates art and have attitudes like that shows you how deep the poor education regarding copyright and ownership has become.

    Yes, of course they were mostly amateurs, but still… Being an amateur is no reason for value lapse. There is nothing wrong with people wanting to make images. There is a big problem with people wanting to steal images or defending those that do.

    The coherent and rational arguments for artist ownership were useless. It was a singularly disappointing moment.

  3. Aye Pee Aye

    I don’t quite get what your issue is. Is it that people feel like that they can legally do screengrab lifts off of a website? Is that the issue? Truly, there are much larger issues to worry about. Yes, anyone can lift a 500×750 pixel sRGB image off of a website, but how useful is it to them? And what can a photographer truly do about it?

    Or is it ownership, or business acumen, that you’re asking about? The issue is not with “the stealers” for the most part; the issue is with the uneducated, lazy photographer that doesn’t want to take the time to become educated, and realize that, at some point, he’s in the photography BUSINESS. With the advent of the AutoEverything DigiCam, that changed everything. But with a good tool comes the responsibility to become educated about business, and the cost of doing business, but that’s just too much to ask of about 95% of most “photographers”. Thus, we’re in the boat we’re in, and nothing with change. Supply and demand.

    Same with musicians. Same boat.

    Until a person wakes up one morning, and says, “Screw this, I’m sick of working just to make rent”, and then takes the time to join something like APA or ASMP or even buy a book from Amazon, then nothing will change. No matter how many paragraphs that you write about “stealing clients”.

    It starts with photographers getting their act together. But that will never change, so we will continue to read this same paragraph on January 2, 2009, and then 2010, and so on.

    I just think it’s very important to remember WHO has the power to change things, and that it’s clearly possible to NOT be a victim in this digital transition. All this was a problem, even in the film days, when it was much harder to “be a photographer”, but now, with the 5D, the floodgates are open and it’ll only get much worse. The upside is — the law is still on our side, and if properly educated, the modern photographer can continue to thrive.

  4. Can y’all give some specific examples of “stolen” images that the professional photographer SHOULD be compensated for?

    What I’m getting at is this: as a newsstand magazine that actively seeks out and hires freelance photographers and pays for photography, we also turn away about 90% of “photographers” (and I use those air quotes with a heavy heart) who solicit us.

    I just refuse to support talentless hacks who seem to be contributing to the problems mentioned above. While I know there are a few magazines in our category that contribute to them heavily, that list really only is two or three names long.

    Besides magazines (that also have an online presence) and ad agencies, who are the possible culprits taking money out of professional photographers’ pockets?

  5. totally off topic – but time to update your “about” paragraph now that you are out and about…the stalkers and paparazzi require it (not part of that crew, just helping out the cause so they stop following me). cheers.

  6. This is multiple problems all concatenated into one. Regarding the “shitternet” we really are in kindergarten if you look at the timeline. The rules about how to play with others are still forming. David Pogue had a column up recently about how he polled a freshman college class on their attitudes towards music downloading, and he was surprised that almost no one regarded that as stealing. This is the way that the problem is looked at; we are creating a society that does not respect the boundaries of ownership when it comes to what is on the screen. They talk about children who will never know a life before the internet and what that means. I think this is probably the wrong way to look at it.

    You know it is very hard to equate this box I have in my livingroom to the outside world. You think I am talking about TV, but I am talking about the computer, and now you see how the two are linked. The screen, common to both, is a very personal place, it creates this kind of abstraction about the world, and a misdirection. TV has always been a commercial space, yet it forms a personal bond with the viewer. That subtle misdirection is at the heart of the internet now. It was not always that way, the internet as an idea starting out was much more star-trekian, an information sharing portal, an oracle. Some of that persists, but mostly the internet now is the same as TV, a misdirected personal commercialism.

    We get caught up in the digital argument, how digital technologies make theft easier, but I think this is to miss the point as well. Just because we could not copy and mash up TV is not to say that we did not consider it “ours” in some other way, it was free so it seemed, it was personal, it came in to our homes, it colonized us you could say but we were happy to be used in this way because it brought enjoyment. We owned TV just like we owned the hearth or the dinner table.

    I’ll tease it out a little further. A big shift occurred this fall when NBC pulled out of iTunes. What I think happened is that the networks saw that this was the moment the new was coming, the internet was becoming TV, or the two were becoming interchangeable. Once broadcast TV goes dodo in 2009 this will be more apparent, but your all your computers will belong to us as they say. So the difference we see now between youtube and thetube will be nonsensical. I believe this is at the heart of the writers strike. Big media sees the potential money grab in this shift, they see all of this “free” content on the web and the willingness of internet users to create programming and stories and characters, and they see the exploitation of this personal space for commercial uses.

    Turn it the other way around: if TV had been invented as a two-way medium we would not be debating this now. It would be a given that “users” would contribute content free…

    So I have come full circle. As content producers we (photographers) have to see it for what it is. The internet is a commercial space. As artists or craftspeople or writers or bloggers or whatever, I think it is grossly naive for us to think that we are creating this wonderful world of sharing and information exchange by “digging” and commenting on blogs for example. The “I saw this and found it interesting” kind of thing. And while we all fret over the semantics of it, big media is quietly executing their business plan which is to extract money from this space either as advertising revenue, fees, access charges, whatever. It is funny to me now that we all worried so much about Microsoft’s IE wars, it has nothing to do with the computer or software at all, and everything to do with what is “on”. If it looks like a dog and barks like a dog…it is TV.

    So if you want to get paid for what is on TV you know what to do, either “own” the broadcasting station, which is not possible, or make content that someone would pay for, or have advertising on your site.

    When I wrote about this initially last year my attitude was while we could not stop all this sharing/stealing of work, we should be careful what kind of behaviour we encourage in this “screen space” I think I was beginning to understand this but could not see the endgame. The endgame is that this is TV and the sooner we realise this the better. Once people get the idea that big media already has, the sooner we can start collecting our slice of this pie. So forget any altruistic notions you had about the information superhighway…it is not the content, it is the ads.

  7. Are you sure you mean this?

    I’ve always had a problem paying for horrible FOOD and now I know I can get it for free.
    I’ve always had a problem paying for horrible CARS and now I know I can get it for free.
    I’ve always had a problem paying for horrible MUSIC and now I know I can get it for free.
    I’ve always had a problem paying for horrible CLOTHES and now I know I can get it for free.
    I’ve always had a problem paying for horrible GAS and now I know I can get it for free.

    Maybe I have the wrong idea.Make me smarter


  8. “I’ve always had a problem paying for horrible photography and now I know I can get it for free.

    High quality photography is still very expensive.”

    ..well you know, if you go to style.com and have a look around you will see a lot of “behind the scenes” shoots for W magazine for example. It is not a huge stretch to say that soon you will be able to see “the shoot” for free on the site (+ads). In other words, Michael Thompson shooting for “free.”

    The advertising the advertising the advertising etc.

  9. Any object is worth what you can convince someone else to pay for it. If copyright exists, you can bump the value of your product since you have the exclusive rights to sell it, hence the invention of copyright by book printers in 1662 to protect their book sales from other printers. (Copyright = right to copy) Later the authors figured out that copyright could help them too.

    Wasn’t it Magnum that brought in the idea that photographers should retain copyright instead of working for the magazines? Works well for those photographers who are “in demand” and can create work that editors want. Doesn’t work so well for the middle of the road photographers who would be happy to be on salary to shoot the supermarket openings and local sports champions.

    So overall copyright is a fine thing.

    Re number 4, I’m not so sure a 500×750 pixel sRGB is of little value, it’s plenty for web display and if your business model involves online publication, and you’re making money off of online advertising, that ripped image of Britney getting out of the car with no panties could have considerable value to your bottom line, and therefore could be of value to the original author (if there’s no money being made who cares, but if there’s money, there’s money to be had).

    But and however, there are folks out there that are uninterested in copyright, who produce original content and who want to give it away for various reasons. I’m one of them, you’ll find a lot of my writing online free for the taking and pre-internet I produced a photocopied ‘zine that said “photocopy and share this newsletter” which went world-wide. Of course I had other reasons for giving the stuff away, and it has worked for me for two decades. So there are real, legitimate reasons why some folks want their work to be “ripped off and copied” without licensing, let’s leave them alone to their own business models.

    The ultimate point has been made here though, for the vast majority of photographers on the net, copyright has no meaning since their work isn’t publishable. For those whose work is good enough to be paid for, the masses giving away their content are no threat, and copyright as it exists is quite strong.

    Back to my original point, that something is worth what you can convince someone to pay for it… there are those few in the “masses” who are giving their work away for free who could be serious competition to the commercial photographers if they only found the outlets for their work and started paying attention to copyright and all the other stuff.

    The question then becomes, is it of value to the commercial photographers who are working now to bring those guys in to “the system”? Seems to me it might be to their advantage to keep those guys buried in the free-for-all websites where their work has little chance of being seen by the editors.

    As things stand they are not taking business away, but if they come to the attention of the clients… That’s the real business risk.

    Just a thought

    Happy New Year to all.
    Kim Taylor

  10. Robert Wright @8 said “David Pogue had a column up recently about how he polled a freshman college class on their attitudes towards music downloading, and he was surprised that almost no one regarded that as stealing.”

    In Canada the fact of people copying music was recognized many years ago and there is a fund in place to cover that. Each casette tape, cd, dvd and other recordable media has a surcharge. The money goes to the publishing companies who are supposed to dole it out to their artists.

    The recording industry in Canada are simultaneously trying to get the surcharge added to hard drives and flash media including Compact Flash cards, while also telling Canadians that it’s illegal to copy music. It’s not.

    Good strategy but really, someone is going to notice this sooner or later.

    As to ownership of your TV signal, it’s given free in return for watching commercials. In Britain you may still have to pay a licensing fee to own a television receiver so again, the content has been paid for hasn’t it? You pay for it but still don’t own it? The problem is that folks don’t get that concept.

    The internet? I pay a fee to be on, it’s not free, I pay quite a bit per month for access, so what about what I can reach for free? Well I end up looking at ads again, so yeah, commercial TV is the model there Robert, and pay sites are cable.

    But hey, as Joe Consumer I paid for the content, don’t tell me I can’t record it and use it or even share it… just tell me I can’t sell it directly or use it to make money selling ads on my own site.

    Kim Taylor

  11. Hi everyone!

    There’s is one issue that never seems to be addressed as part of the larger issue of copyright.

    One of my main concerns is how my image is used on the basis of aesthetics. There are a lot of ugly sites out there, with a lot of really horrible content.

    When I do searches for my name and images typically I run across my images used on blogs and personal sites that take what was once a beautiful image (that took many hours and a good deal of sweat to make) and turn it into a background image, avatar, horribly cropped side bar or nightclub advert. I’ve been linked to porn sites. I’ve had images turn up represented as someone else work. I’ve had images used by makeup artists and stylists that were never part of the project.

    I REALLY HATE THE UGLY DESIGN and the lack luster content pervasive on the internet. I pretty sure most of these image pirates aren’t able to profit from their pilfering. How about a little respect for the aesthetic value of displaying an image the way the artist originally intended?

    I now have a policy that my images are NOT allowed to be used on networking sites. Weather personal or professional. Why? Because they are ugly!

    Let’s all have more respect for our work and the subjects of our images. We all deserve better.


  12. There are plenty of legitimate business models that use open source licensing schemes. I’m not advocating that for photography, but certainly not all open source services or products are garbage.

    Many businesses give something away only to make money on something else. Google lets you use their search engine for free, and for years people wondered how they’d monetize it. Now, everybody’s trying to get onto the internet advertising bandwagon.

    Some software companies release open source versions of their software, and charge for commercial uses, premium versions, or just technical support.

    Personally, I don’t give away my photography, but that doesn’t mean it can’t ever be beneficial to the photographer. It certainly appears, however, that it is not beneficial to the photographers at this point. It is, obviously, very beneficial to the owners of the media that use the photography. What the future holds, though…that’s anyone’s guess.

  13. @9. Mark: If I need a crappy tourist photo (why I need a crappy photo for a national magazine is another story) of the Grand Tetons I used to pay Corbis $400 for it. I can now get that photo for a dollar or even free and that’s what I think it’s worth. I can also buy used clothing for a dollar or a car that doesn’t run or expired food or music that’s not very good.

    @ 14. Kevin: The google search engine is not free. It’s the same as TV, Radio and Magazines. You have to view advertising to use it.

  14. Part of the problem with comparing photographs or writing or film or music to cars and peanut butter is that in one case you can reproduce them infinitely and in the other they’re a “thing”.

    A painting can be sold once, and although an artist still owns a copyright, there aren’t any more of it, so paintings go into the category of “things”, but if someone downloads a photo file where’s the “theft”. To be a bit more clear, a painting can be re-sold for a profit without cutting the author in for part of the profit, you usually can’t do that with a photograph that you’ve licensed from the copyright holder, although if you bought the copyright you likely can. Bonus to photographers. By the way Michelle (HI!) @13, painters don’t get a lot of say how their art is displayed either.

    It’s not theft, it’s copyright violation to download a photo and that’s a different thing. If someone downloads a photo off the net, prints it and hangs it on their wall it’s roughly as much damage to the photographer as ripping a page out of a magazine and putting that up on the wall. You aren’t going to get too much sympathy for that. With music how about recording a tune off the radio as vs. downloading the mp3?

    I don’t think you can go on ethical or moral grounds when talking about copyright, you have to deal with this stuff on financial grounds. Where’s the financial harm?

    Check out http://blog.melchersystem.com/ for some discussions on copyright from a stock photography point of view.

  15. A few thoughts:

    – Are we prepare for what happens when most of our work is used at low res.? I never understood the 50k is worth less than 5mb argument. I’m sure if you viewed a Disney move on your iPhone that Disney would still want their cut. Content is content; it should be more about what the market will bear than the size of the image and we all need to push the market price through hard work.

    – We lock our cars to keep honest people honest. If you left your car door open and found kids playing with the football that you left on the front seat (even if they left a note), would you feel violated / angry? I think there are parallels to internet image borrowing. Just cause it’s easy ….

    – As an industry, we do a poor job of educating the general population about our profession. I always thought ASMP, APA, AIGA, etc. would do well to go into the schools and teach. It’s more relevant now than ever. Let’s teach future advocates why we need strong copyright laws to be legislated and upheld.

    – At the very base is the notion that copyright insures that creativity will remain a rich part of our market place. It keeps value high so the most talented people will choose to create because they can still make a living. Reduced to economics, more people may see the sense in it … but be sure to lock your car door anyway.

  16. Canadian Bacon

    @ #11 Kim, who wrote:

    But and however, there are folks out there that are uninterested in copyright, who produce original content and who want to give it away for various reasons. I’m one of them, you’ll find a lot of my writing online free for the taking and pre-internet I produced a photocopied ‘zine that said “photocopy and share this newsletter” which went world-wide.


    Is there a brief way to describe your mindset on this approach? Is what you’re giving away for free related to your main source of income, or do you have another “day job”? This is not a set-up question: I’m genuinely interested. I just hope that you’re a real photographer, like many of the other Commenters here. If not, I’m not sure what you’re saying really applies that much.

    And God forbid that Robert Wright is correct — the thought of me someday to going to Paolo Roversi’s site, or anyone else like that that I truly admire, and I see, alongside his images, a bunch of cheesey ads for Deardorff cameras, Polaroid film, B/W toners, B&H, just absolutely turns my stomach.

  17. Um, I thought the point here is that the Creative Commons license allows idiots to **release** their rights.

    So @9, the analogy to getting horrible food for free is a only accurate if they’re GIVING it away (actually plenty of bodegas in NYC sell food that’s gone off for full price) and unfortunately, I challenge you to find a gas station giving away even the low grade stuff for free. Maybe a better analogy would be BioDiesel. People give it away for free because they think it’s worthless used chip-oil but you think it’s just wooooonderful and makes your car smell like fritos.

    APE: Sure, you can get crappy tourist photos for free, but just be careful what copy you place next to it (ie: “look at the idiot tourists next to the grand canyon” or “the yuppification of the grand tetons”). Those same idiots who are putting the content out there for free and who don’t realize they COULD let Corbis or Getty get 98% of their $400 (so they could make a whopping $8 off the sale, whoopee!) also don’t realize that you need to get model releases. Part of what you pay for as an image licensor is the peace of mind of having Billy Gates’ or Jonathan Klein’s legal department backing you up. Just google “flickr virgin mobile” (and skip the Virgin Mobile ad) to see what I mean. Still, if the copy is tame then go ahead and use the Flickr photo. It’s all crap anyway.

  18. @19: Sorry to turn your stomach, but it already exists… go to T Magazine’s site on http://www.nytimes.com and you’ll find a Bloomie’s ad next to Paolo’s work which is followed by another ad for shop.gucci.com.

    Sorry for the nauseous feeling in your belly, but what would you rather do, actually have to PAY for that stupid “Times Select” service they tried and subsequently killed because nobody wants to pay for anything on the webbernet?

    Information wants to be free, except when it costs something to produce.

  19. Canadian Bacon


    Your Dudeness,

    Yes, we all saw the scandalous topless teenager on the T site, but what I was speaking to was Robert Wright’s vision of having the advertising on a site actually BE the profit. As in, T Magazine pays Roversi absolutely nothing to shoot that Gallerina story, not even the expenses, but the business model is Roversi hosts advertising on his own site when people go there to drool over his images, and are shown advertising at that time. I just can’t imagine it.

    If so, will we soon see ads here, on A Photo Editor Gone Astray, showing last-minute getaway flights to Durango, or the best hotel rate in Tucson, or membership drive ads from APA?

    I’m just especially sensitive to it, because if anyone is a user of GMail from Google, you see those ads along the side of your personal emails, with content pertaining to what’s in the body of your email content. It’s just creepy sometimes, like someone’s looking over your shoulder as you type, or listening in on the phone conversation, on a party line.

  20. @21-my point exactly, it is already there. It is a shame to see Roversi’s work like that for instance, but on the other hand, take a look at italian vogue, there are so many pages of really crappy ads in there next to roversi et al that in some senses it is the same thing. W or VF is no different. The only difference between a magazine and the internet is dpi. I know that is not true, but it is true. Right now we have monitors with 100ppi, in the near future those resolutions will increase and type will look better and photography will also look better than the crappy offset we have now. There is an ad for sony digital cameras-the person takes a picture and you see a flat screen HD tv where the picture was. This is what the manufacturers want, they want to sell us this stuff so it is coming for sure. Kindle too.
    Right now the incentive to move as much printed content to your TV/computer is very high, the economics of printing/distribution demand it.
    There could be an upside for magazines, if all consumer advertising leaves print more or less for the interTV or T-web or whatever you want to call it it might release the space back to content, at higher prices perhaps.
    I’m not sounding bleak am I?

  21. So before the price you wanted to pay for “Crap” was free and now it”s low price.Just because it is less a photo doesn’t mean you should not pay . I just don’t get the idea that because It was so priced “high” now we have to go to free?
    So a going all that way to the Grand Tetons is now worth Nothing? I should compete against Free?
    SO that just rules out alot of a business
    Low price is different then free.
    I have less of a problem with that.
    A National Photo Edition saying he want’s free photos is different then Joe Blow saying he wants Free Photos (bad or otherwise). If I was say a young photographer maybe I should just give it away then just to be in a Magazine. And no that is not like Google they do not give it away any more than CBS, ABC ,NBC gives away free programing. Some body pays.
    What is driving this ? Companies do not want to pay any more than they have to. Supply and demand. They demand more and we supply…….. and if we don’t well there is always free…….

    Not bitter here. I am just aware that this is a Business first
    Art second, ( or at least equal to each other)
    Business Loves creative commons .Business Loves Low Price

    Hell I like low price.
    But if I want to have a market in walking distance , well I have to pay for it. If I want A photographer with full lighting ,new 21 meg chip…. well Business is going pay.
    Except when it can find it for free…..or very low price…..
    Which is a lot more often these days.
    Supply needs to come in balance with demand or don’t plan on paying for 2 kids in college and a nice house on editional photography (like I do and Did)
    I need to get back to work here…… college to pay for.


  22. Photographers who produce content that has value will make money, those who don’t, won’t. Businesses always look to save money and maximize profits. But if they feel that paying for visual content will increase profits they will pay for it. Sharing, the free exchange of ideas, is great. It only becomes a problem when the sharing is used for someone else’s profit. The difficulty now is that it is easier to steal and a lot of people/businesses are getting away with it. On the flipside though, is that high school kid from England who made a home video that was placed on Youtube where it was seen by some ad creatives who brought him to LA him to direct a campaign. I believe that that is perfect example of what Lessig was talking about. So, we as photographers have to be vigilant about how our work is used. In the way that water follows the path of least resistance, businesses follow the path of the least cost. That is, until the creative director says that if they don’t spend on visual content their ship will sink.

    What is happening in our business (esp. in NY) is that the middle ground is eroding leaving the top and bottom rung. There are many competent photographers who are getting pushed into work for hire agreements with digital studios or as staffers. The top rung is making more than ever and those of us just under the top rung are clawing for the scraps and trying to elbow our way in. Because there are so many of us its a buyers market. But of course all the competition is going to make for better images….you get what you pay for.

  23. I don’t want free photos I want to buy great photos but if all I can find is crap I now don’t have to pay full price for it and underwrite the creation of more crap.

  24. living in a city
    that is saturated with “photographers”
    i stand behind this 100%
    ive sent quotes
    and been turned down on a couple occasions
    because my price seemed high
    after other quotes they received
    only to see a crappy product that is not usable for the business’ purposes
    and then have to hire someone else
    to fix the first mistake of working with a “hack”

    quality work isnt cheap

    im sure ive scared off potential clients with my prices
    i feel they are reasonable
    when they see the final outcome
    i dont feel like im overpricing myself

    you only sell yourself
    your product
    when you undercut
    just to get the job
    the exposure
    and the small paycheck

  25. @19 wrote: “Is there a brief way to describe your mindset on this approach? Is what you’re giving away for free related to your main source of income, or do you have another “day job”? This is not a set-up question: I’m genuinely interested. I just hope that you’re a real photographer, like many of the other Commenters here. If not, I’m not sure what you’re saying really applies that much.”

    I could ask what a “real photographer” is, but I don’t think it’s relevant to the discussion so never mind. I don’t make the majority of my income from photography directly, but it’s integral to my income if that helps. (The logical fallacy is ad hominum by the way).

    Regardless, I was referring to my writing and not my photography. I write and publish journals on martial arts topics, you can see an example here http://ejmas.com/ and as I explained above, I started doing this in the late ’80s as a print newsletter, before the WWW appeared. I also lost money as a glossy newsstand magazine editor before I went totally online to escape an insane business model. (The very highest paid people in a magazine should be the ad salesmen, without them nobody eats).

    My reasoning is quite simple, by writing I establish myself as an expert in the field, create credibility, and attract students to the seminars I present which allows me to invite and pay for instructors from Japan who teach me. By giving stuff away for free I collect instruction in my arts. My “pay” is something other than cash.

    Along the way I developed an online martial arts supply company which now provides my living, I take the catalogue shots myself so there’s the commercial application of my photography. You will note that the martial arts journals I publish and give away my writing to, also carry ads for my online supply company.

    Google search hits translate directly into income. Owning copyright on my writing does not. There is no meaningful market in existence for martial arts writing. (Although I also write books and produce videos which I sell).

    I also take “fine art” photographs and have had a couple of shows, sold a couple of prints, but don’t really promote myself much since I’d rather be shooting than schmoozing.

    I publish an online photography-related magazine at http://180mag.ca/ in conjunction with a co-op studio I belong to, about half of the guys are commercial photographers, most of them never think about copyright, they shoot commercial stuff for pay, stuff that will never be licensed to anyone else but the original client. One makes a living shooting stock and believe me, he thinks about copyright.

    You can decide if I’ve got the chops to discuss these things (oh, I’ve shot weddings for money and for free… my students), but your question does outline a common assumption, that everyone who gives away content is an amateur with another job who hasn’t a clue about the real world and just needs to be educated that he’s taking food from the mouths of pro shooters.

    Lots of people create intellectual property but don’t retain copyright. In Canada we have the concept of work for hire which applies to photographers, you can get paid to work and your photos belong to those who pay you. Your compensation is the salary. I spent 24 years working for the University of Guelph in various jobs, the last 14 as a research tech where I published papers on various brand new chemical analyses that were commercially viable, but that I published (again, wrote the papers for no fee) so that they were freely available to anyone in the world who wanted to use them. I got paid a good salary and what I created helped other people create more stuff that went out for free to help more people to…

    At the end of the day humanity sometimes benefited. Child of the ’60s here but really, if I shot a photograph that would benefit humanity I suspect I’d have little trouble giving it away even if it could bring me some serious coin.

    @23 Robert Wright talks of ad free magazines… the model is there in some fashion photography mags already, high end photography, high cover price, no ads. The other end is low cover price and high ad content of course.

    An even more extreme example is in academia where researchers may even pay a page fee to a journal for the privilege of publishing a paper. That’s after peer review by the way. The advantage there is that the author gets a paper in a “name” journal, ego and career benefits. The career benefit of course is in pay scale jumps and tenure with minimum publishing requirements. The journal gets to charge a bit less to libraries who buy the journal and maybe a third world University library gets to carry it.

    Fashion editorial photography? I once wrote that I’d gladly pay Zink to publish a story of mine if I was seriously trying to become a beauty or fashion photographer. I’d certainly give my work away for free, it’s the business model in that field. You make the money on the ads, not on editorial.

    Roversi probably got paid for that Times shoot but it wouldn’t surprise me if he hadn’t. Think about how much it would cost to buy the equivalent advertising space in the fashion supplement. And as every first year marketing student can tell you, editorial is the best advertising you can get.

    There ARE legitimate business reasons for giving away work. There are also very powerful egotistical reasons for giving away work, why else do you think folks send videos to youtube or photos to Flickr?

    And maybe, just maybe, there’s those who give work away because it benefits someone else.

    Kim Taylor

  26. @28, Kim: Thanks for the interesting post, and the link to 180 magazine. You have some really incredible photography to show — absolutely fantastic stuff. (Your website needs some work though, both to make navigation practical and bring your typography forward from 1994.)

  27. @22: Actually, the NY Times Mag does indeed pay. It’s not spectacular – a pretty standard editorial rate plus expenses – but my point was that advertising next to content in order to subsidize its creation is nothing new. Like @23 points out, it happens in print so what’s the rub if it’s on the web?

    I mean, look at richardkern.com and you’ll find a little amazon logo in the corner. It’s happening.

    As for, gmail, yes it’s creepy. Think about it: it’s a company whose main focus is in search technology and you *think* you’re having a private correspondence? Time to reread the user agreement…

  28. The most important conversation of the year.

    Copyright infringement takes a back seat to the real story – the real dialogue is about cash flow – which is my favorite part of your views presented here, Rob.

    Maybe, we should all get to keep every dollar we come in under budget – even the photo editor.

    Seriously, the important conversation is nailed by Robert above. Big Media is all about the cashflow of the internet. How many more articles do we have to read that talk about Big Media not being able to make any money off their web pages? Does anyone believe that anymore? Did anyone notice the new FCC rules?

    The FCC voted last week to lift it’s 30-year-old ban on media consolidation allowing the same company to own a newspaper, television or radio station in the same city within the US.

    THE FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said of the three to two vote: “Today’s Decision Would Make George Orwell Proud”

    What’s going to be the difference between radio, tv, or a newspaper? It’s all going to be read/watched/listened to on your iPhone.

    How many of you signed the letter to congress to overturn the FCC’s new rules?

  29. Last night on David Letterman Robin Williams made the joke about how the producers always say, “no money in iTunes” and Robin did a little impression of Steve Jobs “sittin’ on a pile of cash.”

    I guess Bill Gates was a visionary when he introduced WebTV back in the 90’s, it looks so simplistic now, the merging of two technologies based on one man’s greed to own the keys to the castle (the browser, the OS). Fast forward 20 years and now we see an even bigger powerplay, a convergence between cable companies, cel phone providers, studios, TV, which on some corporate level are all becoming more consolidated, the aim of which is to force as much advertising into our lives as possible. The idea is that you can justify higher and higher valuations of the same corporations if it appears that they are massaging bigger and bigger markets.

    I expect to lift my toilet seat lid soon and see a googlead.

  30. @25 said: “What is happening in our business (esp. in NY) is that the middle ground is eroding leaving the top and bottom rung. There are many competent photographers who are getting pushed into work for hire agreements with digital studios or as staffers. The top rung is making more than ever and those of us just under the top rung are clawing for the scraps and trying to elbow our way in.”

    While I fundamentally agree with this statement and trend (I believe it’s been happening for a few years) the question I have to ask it what defines the middle ground and high ground? Seriously, I’d really like to know. Especially since most things are relative.

    Again, is there any (even ballpark) definition of the high & middle ground?

  31. @33 easy, Front of book, Back of book, Well. The first two are middle ground, the last is high ground. The Well is the place where the features are.

    I considered (note past tense..) myself middle ground because I did the majority of my work in fob or bob and had occasional well stories. All of the work was for A-list magazines. So I thought I was doing ok and eventually I would get more well stories, which did not happen. The reasons for that are a story in itself.

    However few photographers could expect to do multiple fob or bob stories in the same month for the same magazine. Which is what I was doing, which is what the middle ground was about, reliability, making something out of nothing, no-ego. That still exists in still life for example, but not in portraiture. I think, and rob can comment on this, you could not expect to work 6-8 times per year on a title, that kind of regularity is vanishing, and the middle ground is shrinking.

  32. Right. makes sense – at least in the context of editorial.

    Ad work is also facing similar trends – my experience is that the middle ground is experiencing similar erosion to editorial as Robert mentioned.

    Granted, ad work is a very different kettle of fish. But budgets are under attack as well. Does there now seem to be less high and mid level ad work out there, or have agencies/clients generally lowered their expectations because of budget restraints – i.e. what was considered mid level last year, is considered high level this year.

  33. @34 – I agree except for the still life part. FOB & BOB in still life no longer exists. Conde Nast, Hearst, Time have all opened in-house digital studios. My former assistants shoot there for 10 hours/day for $500. with no rights to the images except portfolio use. They are saving millions/year in messengers alone and are all building digital archives. The only thing done out of house (unless the studios are too busy) is the well stories.

    While it has opened up my calendar a good bit – to read and comment on blogs – I am only doing well work now (& then). From a financial point of view it is a good move for the publishers. It is just that after a year of it everything is looking the same. I am happy not to be doing that work any more and feel more creatively charged than I have in a while but I am earning a lot less money.

    The same is true in advertising and catalogue. The agencies and catalogue houses have also opened in-house studios and the “bread and butter” work is done there thereby saving money for the big shots – the CEOs of the photo world. In other words, no more middle ground.

    Personally, I want to hang with the CEOs. I’d rather bartend then work in-house.

    So, to take it back to the content/rights discussion. The businesses are placing high value on exciting photography and will pay for and give up rights to use it. For more generic work they will pay a generic price.

  34. @37-I know of a few freelance shooters who still do work where digital studios exist, (a lot of work) they can compete and retain the work because they do a better job and can respond to changes in schedule where the digital studios are stuck. But you are right that a lot of it has gone away.

  35. “without attribution” thats a bit rich being as you have only just made yourself known. To read your tone I would guess someone has been pulling your chain on this issue.

  36. I won’t take anything on this site seriously until you charge me $0.99 per post.

    Anything free is by default crap.

  37. I’m happy for person or persons unknown to use my images that I put on my various sites for publicity, but only if they contribute towards the cost of producing those images. Average cost per gig including flights, maybe $500?

  38. The Creative Commons debates were easy to see coming from my standpoint. I posted an article about Creative Commons in relation to photography on my blog “Creative Commons A Great Concept I’ll Never Employ” in November and that got the ball rolling on some of the discussion. Based on that alone I set up an interview with Professor Lessig in mid-December for my podcast. By that time some copyright infringement stories broke and the debate moved up a gear. I released the interview January 1st. I recommend listening to it. The interview captures Lessig’s mindset on copyright law in general, his perspective on CC specifically in relation to photography and his thoughts on market changes impacting photographers.

    2008 will certainly be the year of copyright debate.